The Cincinnati Reds have scored a nice 69 runs through their first 10 games of the 2021 season, and no other team in baseball has even come close to that total. Boston and Houston have both tallied 58, to date.
No team in Major League Baseball has socked more than the 18 dingers swatted by the Reds, either. Houston has matched that total, with the 15 clubbed by Cleveland next in line.
Their team OPS (.857) is the best in the game, as is their team ISO (.227). It’s been enough to place their overall team wOBA (.369) at the top of all 30 MLB clubs, too.
While it’s all a terribly small sample to date - and one with a pile of bias baked in, as well - you’d think that kind of small-sample run would be fueled by at least one primary driver. Like, nobody has hit the ball as hard as the Reds, or the Reds have the least number of soft-contacts in the game, or perhaps they’re walking twice as often as any other team!
To be across the board good at the output stats, it’s just intuitive to assume that they’ve been markedly better than their peers in some very specific way on the input-stats. Hell, the team at at-Reds even noticed as much while I was in the middle of concocting this blogcoction!
So you see, the Reds lead MLB in runs scored, OPS and SLG. They're currently tied for most homers in the league. Oh and also in first place in the NL Central... pretty neat, right? pic.twitter.com/9Hg1XIjwIi— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 13, 2021
As it turns out, though, the data from FanGraphs doesn’t exactly show they are world-beaters in any specific way, and that’s what I found quite interesting over coffee today.
Their 33.5% hard-hit rate is good, but ranks 9th among all clubs. their soft-hit rate of 12.6% is a tad better at 4th lowest, but that’s not exactly a super correlative stat when it comes to defining team success. Point being, when it comes to the kind of contact they’re making, it’s not the kind that screams this club is obviously out-clubbing everyone.
There doesn’t even seem to be a wheel-reinvention that they’ve uncovered before everyone else, either, a market inefficiency only they are exploiting. It’s not as if they’re exclusively pulling the ball at a rate not seen elsewhere to tremendous aplomb, as their Pull% (12th), Center% (18th), and Oppo% (15th) show they’re pretty approaching things the same way as everyone. There’s no unique shift-beating here, and their 36.8% fly-ball rate (16th among all teams) says they aren’t simply employing a strategy of hit it over the shift, either.
Their 8.4% walk rate ranks 21st in the league, so it’s not as if they’re mastering the strikezone unlike anyone else. Their 20.7% K-rate, though, is the 4th best in the game, and is surrounded by other powerhouse offenses on that leaderboard with San Diego, Houston, the Dodgers, and Boston all near them, too. That’s a positive, standout stat so far that’s perhaps the most encouraging we’ve come across so far should it be something that’s a defining characteristic for the next 152 games, too.
Since they aren’t striking out a ton or walking a ton, that obviously means they’re putting the ball in play a ton. The 2020 season saw the Reds set all sorts of records for futility on team batting average, fueled largely by a BABIP that was just comically low, especially relative to the level of contact they were making during that 60 game run. This time around, they’re being rewarded much more for their work, though it’s not as if the luck god have completely reversed course. Their .310 BABIP is good, but it’s only tied for the 7th best in the game to date, albeit solidly above the league-wide .286 mark so far. Still, that’s by no means an outlier to an extent that it becomes the primary driver for their offensive output.
The one real peripheral stat that stands out as what’s led the Reds to their offensive explosion is, unfortunately, one that seems to perhaps be a bit more luck-fueled than method-fueled. As things stand today, their HR/FB% - meaning how often the fly balls they hit carry over the outfield walls - sits at 18.4%, which is the single highest mark in the game. That’s higher than the league average of 13.5% so far in 2021, as well as the league average mark of 14.8% during the dinger-binge in the shortened 2020 season, too. That said, it’s not too far off the 18.1% mark the Reds posted just last season, and it’s worth remembering that these Reds do get to call the dinger paradise of GABP their home for another 75 times this regular season.
In all, it’s an offense that is probably performing a tad bit better overall than how they should be relative to their 29 peers, but one that does still have enough about it that should keep it solidly above-average as the season rolls on. And, god forbid, if they do actually end up sustaining that HR/FB% as some luck retribution for their 2020 troubles, there’s reason to believe that paired with their tiny home confines could conspire to produce output that outperforms what you’d otherwise expect from this group.
Rest assured, we’ll be watching it all closely with a couple of fingers crossed behind our backs.
Batted-ball data sourced from FanGraphs.com.